Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Geek Out (Beep Beep): The Dark Tower

I’m inaugurating a new column, if you will, called Geek Out (Beep Beep), which means I can then feel free to wax geek-like about any topic I damned well please without feeling the need to preempt the discussion by discussing how damned geeky it is. Consider it a disclaimer, or don’t consider it at all: up to you.

Now, let’s get down to business. Dark Tower business. You know who you are, say thankya. I’ve been reading and eagerly awaiting the next tome in The Dark Tower cowboy western sci-fi fantasy meta-fiction saga for almost twenty years now. And I just finished The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower a few weeks ago. Indeed, in one of the earliest incarnations of Dumpster Bust: The E-Zine I reviewed Book V, Wolves of the Calla. Only reason I mention is to show how speedily the final three installments rolled out compared to the earlier editions, the first of which was conceived by a youthful college student named Stephen King.

Most people know by now that Mr. King was almost killed by a drunk driver who hit him on the side of a dusty road in rural Maine. What some may not know is that this event became a central force in both speeding the final three Dark Tower books, and that they became central events in the fiction of the books themselves. Which of course means that our man S King put himself in his own novels, and three of them for good measure. That he could do this in the midst of a seven book cycle that involves multiple worlds, a grand quest that sits besides The Lord of the Rings in scope, monsters, demons, vampires, several characters from previous novels, and that actually forms the philosophical basis of almost every book and story the man has written, is audacious to say the least. To state that he mostly pulls all of this off while providing a satisfying ending to one of the best fantasy series of all time is testament to the (staying) power of this wonderful writer and master story spinner.

The series begins with, in my opinion, just about the best opening line to a book, period: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. That’s the stuff of epic quest and dreams. That’s a line that helped me to decide that I wanted to be a writer.

If a mini-series or set of movies ever get made out of this grand adventure, I only hope they do it right and place it in the hands of someone like Peter Jackson. I will salivate to learn who would play Roland of Gilead, Jake Chambers, Eddie and Susannah Dean, and Walter/Randall Flagg/The Man in Black. And to imagine what cgi could do for Oy the Billy Bumbler of Mid-World. I see in my mind’s eye the final scene, Roland finally arrived to The Dark Tower, the surrounding fields of roses representing his life (and all of the worlds’) quest. I see it as part Frodo and Sam at Mt. Doom, part Braveheart or Errol Flynn storming the final castle, and, oddly enough, The Blair Witch Project rolled into one. It’s magical, frightening, and beautiful.

It was worth the wait.


Misha said...

First of all, was that really the first line of the Gunslinger? I think you may have mistyped it. Or at least, I hope you did. Second, I must confess that I gave up on the Dark Tower series a long time ago for two reasons. First, I was extremely frustrated with King's writing pace. Instead of working on the Dark Tower series, he just churned out crap like "Needlful Things". Second, my impression of King has always been that he's a masterful plot developer but a wholly incompetent plot resolver. With King, the more interesting the plot, the more disappointing the resolution. Book 3 of the series convinced me that he had no idea where he was going. The ending, wherein our hero is trapped inside a demented train, reaked of a desperate need to end the book on a cliffhanger. At the end of that book it was clear that King had nothing to offer, so he decided to place Roland in a batman-like scenario from which escape was so improbable that people were willing to wait years for an ungratifying resolution.

But maybe the series improved after that. I wouldn't know.


Eric Berlin said...

Misha - welcome to the hizzie, nice to have you.

To your points:

- It wasn't really the first line.... it was a bit of a late night typo... it's fixed now, and should read:

The man in black fled through the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

Now THAT'S storytelling damn it. However, the way I mis-quoted it (the gunslinger fled through the desert and the gunslinger followed) is very telling -- and a rather interesting way of putting things - if you get through the end of the 7th book.

- I understand your frustration with the pace of book roll-outs. However, if you were so inclined, you can now go back and roll through the final four volumes at your own demanding pace. So consider yourself lucky, bucko: some of us stuck it out in the trenches.

- I think you criticism of King "not knowing where he was going" and leaving Volume III off on a cliff hanger doesn't really hold up. While, granted, King may have had only a vague idea of where the series would lead, I believe "The Waste Lands" holds up very well on its own. In fact, it's one of my favorite all-time books. The race throgh Lud and onto Blaine the Mono is worth the price of admission, in my opinion. I do think that if you push ahead, you'll find that while Volume IV (Wizard & Glass) is a stand-alone story not integral to the series (though a truly great romance/western/fantasy tale it is), the final three volumes are tied very closely together and roll up the entire series quite tightly.

- I agree that King is at times better at throwing out a fantastic premise than bringing a cohesive ending, but isn't that the trick with any sci fi / fantasy / horror writer? That being said, I found the ending of "The Dark Tower" to be surprisingly satisfying. Call me a King apologist if you will, but there it is.